Guest Column - May/June 2012

Leveraging Consumer Marketing Best Practices to Engage Employees

By Fred Bendaña


For several decades, business professionals utilized many of the same, repeated principles and processes for reaching consumers and driving sales. The past five years shattered some of those tried-and-true approaches, with new technology and economic changes forcing companies to reach and interact with consumers in new and dynamic ways.

Today's marketers have adapted old models and invented new ones to connect with a new age of consumers who research and purchase products differently than ever before. On top of the consumer-driven need for change, advances in behavioral economics over the past 20 years also caused changes—for the better—that helped marketers understand their customers' intrinsic needs and motivations.

With continued advances in neuroscience and behavioral economics, marketers are also learning—and hearing—more about driving results through internal marketing and employee engagement. Unfortunately, companies aren't adapting as quickly in these spaces, with many still relying on rudimentary methods that use recognition and incentives for their employees as afterthoughts to the rest of the business.

To spur the evolution, the marketplace is now filled with varying views on how best to use incentives to engage employees. Concepts include the use of cash versus non-cash awards, implementing gamification elements to drive behavior, and weighing the value of delayed versus instant gratification—among others.

To help filter the options, business leaders can start by taking a page (or two) from their fellow brand marketers who have skillfully adapted to the demands of the new generation of consumers. These companies can and should leverage their consumer marketing best practices to benefit their own employees.

Consumer Decision Journey

Many modern marketers now adhere to industry expert David Court's customer-lifecycle model, the "Consumer Decision Journey." Introduced in 2009, the model shook up the old practice of thinking of a funnel approach to how customers interacted with brands (they enter in one end and leave on the other after simplistically deciding to purchase the product/service). Court's new model showed how brands could generate stronger, longer lasting customer loyalty. Instead of thinking that the relationship ends after purchase, the model opened marketers to think of an ongoing "loyalty loop" that drives additional business.

Following this model, companies can turn the "consumer journey" into an "Employee Loyalty Path." Beyond the "funnel," businesses can manage the employee relationship from the time they learn about the company, to when they apply and interview, to when they accept the position and then hopefully enter their own "loyalty loop." Each stage is an opportunity for a touch-point that increases engagement—a goal that requires an ongoing process.

Looking to neuroscience findings like what Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School proposed in "Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices," we know people respond to both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. We're innately motivated by four biological drives to acquire status and things, defend what we acquire, bond with others, and create/contribute to our families, companies and communities. The Employee Loyalty Path guides companies through an ongoing relationship where these drives can be fueled with internal audiences.

Once the employee joins the company, businesses can ask for recognition preferences to provide individualized incentives. According to a 2011 Maritz Poll, 80 percent of employees feel recognition and rewards strengthen their relationships with a company. Incentives and rewards clearly play a role in the loop to help employees feel they're valued and part of an inclusive organization with meaningful roles (Enjoy). This then leads them to actively promote the company (Advocate) and deepen relationships with co-workers and the brand (Bond). Providing opportunities (and incentives) for employees to learn new skills and try new things (Grow/Develop) completes the loop.